If you asked your friends if they thought you had a drinking problem they would probably say no. And that’s even if you did end up drinking a little too much last night. If we looked inside of your fridge we may or may not find a few half full bottles of wine, half a six pack of beer, basically what you would find in anyone’s kitchen too? You may hit happy hours, go out on weekends, drink with dinner, and it is all normal right?
Think how often you crave pouring yourself a drink after a stressful day at work. You tell yourself you are just unwinding at the end of a long day as you pour your second or third glass. But deep down, there is something in you that knows you might be drinking too much, EVEN THOUGH your relationship with alcohol, on the surface, looks totally normal. And you want to know something, you may be right.
The Disease of Alcoholism is Not Black and White
Diagnosing alcoholism isn’t as easy as taking a 5-minute questionnaire that asks you about your drinking habits. While it may be a good indicator it isn’t the only way of knowing. Your relationship with alcohol isn’t so easily diagnosed. And although experts once treated alcoholics and non-alcoholics as two separate entities, doctors are now starting to view individual’s relationship with alcohol on a spectrum. Just because you haven’t reached the alcoholic’s end of the spectrum, doesn’t mean alcohol isn’t interfering with your day-to-day well being. Nor does it mean you don’t need to curb your consumption.
“It used to be basically two categories,” says Dr. Joseph Nowinski, a clinical psychologist and co-author of “Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem?” “You were either an alcoholic or you were OK.” Now, he says, he evaluates individuals’ relationship with alcohol on a sliding scale – low risk to mild; moderate to severe. “People sort of move along the spectrum,” Nowinski adds. “There’s no sharp dividing line.”
For example, someone can be a low-risk drinker, yet gradually find that as time goes on, he or she has begun to veer into heavy-drinking territory.
SAMHSA and the CDC performed a study that found only 10% of people who use alcohol have alcohol-use disorder (formal name for alcoholism) but nearly one-third are considered excessive drinkers.
“People are drinking at a level that’s putting themselves and others at risk of harm, even if they’re not necessarily meeting criteria for alcohol dependence or for the disease of alcoholism,” says Dr. Bob Brewer, who leads the alcohol program in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC. “I think that has some very important implications.”
So where do you fall on the alcohol spectrum? Do you think you have a disordered relationship with alcohol and need to abstain completely? Or are you simply an excessive drinker who needs to limit the amount of happy hours they attend during the week.
The Low Risk Drinker
Experts say a low risk drinker is someone who consumes 14 drinks a week or a woman who consumes seven. Many people start out as low risk drinkers, having at most, a glass a night. But often this increases. Eventually, you are no longer a low risk drinker but you aren’t a full-blown alcoholic either.
For some people it requires getting a DUI, losing their job, getting arrested, having a falling out with a friend for them to reconsider what their relationship with alcohol actually is. But no one has to go through those things before they recognize what is going on.
“I have kind of two criterion for whether alcohol is impacting your life in a harmful way,” says Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “One’s more social, and one’s more internal. The social part is when you start seeing impairment in social and occupational functioning, no matter what it is.”
The Social Drinker
It could be falling or injuring yourself because of intoxication. It could be dangerous driving. It could be that you’re late for morning meetings because of a hangover, spending less time with family members or getting into fights with friends during booze-filled events. It could be the revelation that you’re gaining weight or developing gastrointestinal reflex disorder. Anything that’s affecting your health, your relationships or your goals is fair game.
The Internal Drinker
The second part, Koob says, is when you start using alcohol as a form of self-medication, or to fix the problems that alcohol caused. You start getting cranky or anxious without a drink, and pour one to improve your mood. You feel lonely or stressed and drink to feel better. “This is when you know you’re starting to get into deep trouble,” Koob says.
What Do You Do When You Have a Drinking Problem?
If you relate to any of this, limit yourself to just one drink a night. Can’t just stop at one? Then abstain for a month? If you can’t do that then you might want to take a look at what you are truly dealing with and what your relationship with alcohol actually is. If the social risks, health complications, internal issues aren’t enough to get you to stop it may be time to seek help.
Remember, drinking has a huge public health cost. Drinking alone kills 88,000 people in the United States each year. That includes motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, and health issues (heart disease, cancer, etc.)
Now you may not drink very often but when you do you drink a lot. Does that sound familiar? This is known as binge drinking. And if you are doing this it is time to cut back. Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks within a short period of time for men, 4 or more for women. If you can stop your binge drinking you can improve your health significantly.
By giving up – or cutting back on – alcohol, you’re not necessarily saying you’re an alcoholic, nor that you have a problem, Doyle says. It’s simply a matter of improving your quality of life.
However, if you do have an actual problem with alcohol, elimination of it all together is your best bet, experts say.
If you need help doing that please don’t hesitate to call us @ 833-596-3502 so that you can speak with someone who can answer the questions that you have about getting better.